Manhattan Park, An Inevitable Result

Life on Roosevelt Island, the Borders of Survival

Updated 2 weeks ago David Stone
Manhattan Park, Roosevelt Island, where hearts can be as cold as the icy snow
Manhattan Park, Roosevelt Island, where hearts can be as cold as the icy snow
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

"We are all being robbed, but to some of us, it's either freeze or starve," our reader wrote. "We need help." No, this did not come from a Third World country, not even a forgotten Midwest town in the dead of winter. It came from Roosevelt Island, once dubbed "The City of Tomorrow," from a stranger who asked to remain anonymous and lives in Manhattan Park.

An Urgent, Middle of the Night Plea

I found a new message in my inbox at 3:30 a.m., on Saturday, when I rolled out of bed to feed the cats and update The Daily...

"Hello Mr. Stone," it read. "I am a tenant who wishes to remain anonymous. My heating bill has tripled and so has the rest of the building's bills. Apparently management is saying they have to increase our rate. My family members' rent every month is only $139. How am I supposed to pay a $300 electricity bill? Especially when the heaters haven't even been used? It's cold everyday in my home because we don't use the heaters due to the electricity bill being unaffordable. Please help us. The elderly in [deleted] River Rd are so scared on their fixed incomes with rent at $120- $175 and heating bills at $400. Most people don't use the heat. They stop sealing our A.C and won't explain why. So, there's plenty of draft. I write to you at 2am at the age of 72 under 3 blankets and freezing. We need help."

Why The Daily?

As eager as we are to help when we can, The Daily serves as a broker of information and opinion, not a resource for social services, and while I suggested that the Manhattan Park tenant call the City's 311 help hotline, what bothered me most about this elderly person's plight is that, like too many others, they've grown to realize that officials who should stand ready aren't there for them, their rhetoric caught up in a political juggernaut that cares increasingly less about them.

RIOC...? You must be joking. Pleas about excess charges for heating, delivered to the State agency run by Governor Andrew Cuomo, blew out when it bowed down to Manhattan Park's sub metering abuse, over a year ago. A tenant group's concerns were fobbed off by RIOC President Susan Rosenthal as "conspiracy theories."

And after scoring a big win this week in finally reaching its goal of destroying the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, RIOC's commitment to an emerging local brand of apartheid is rising. They won't help suffering seniors (or anyone else) in Manhattan Park if it means offending the complex's connected owners.

But what about our elected officials, you know, those individuals who wax passionate about fighting for us when voting time nears?

Certain that we'd get some action, I forwarded the 72 year-old, freezing tenant's email to Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, State Senator José Serrano Jr, City Council Member Ben Kallos, Public Service Commission sub metering expert Deborah Sippel and representatives for both Seawright and Serrano. 

Two days later, the weather even colder, the total responses from all the above: 0

Well, that's not exactly correct. Kallos's automated, out of office response reminds us of the importance of paternity leave, of which he is currently taking advantage.

For the Record

After failing to get RIOC to do its job by enforcing terms of its own ground lease with Manhattan Park, terms required by the Public Service Commission, going all the way back to 1989 and designed to protect tenants from sub metering abuse, we went straight to the PSC in February. Honestly, we're not optimistic. PSC has been aware of sub metering issues at Manhattan Park since 2013 and has done next to nothing about it.

We have also made PSC aware that, among other things, Manhattan Park pledged in writing to help residents economize on heating with, among other things, a detailed Welcome Pack for new arrivals. Remember the complaint above? Tenants can't even get Manhattan Park to deal with drafts from leaky heating units in the middle of winter.

It'd be a sharp, unanticipated reversal, but maybe change is coming. Or a drawn out class action lawsuit is what's needed. We should have that answered soon.

In the meantime, if you care at all about this community and the values under which it was founded, you may be as sickened by the circumstances into which the elderly and non-affluent are being forced on Roosevelt Island.

Our neighbors with limited resources need our help, but where will that help come from, if it comes at all?

Long time residents once thought they'd never see economic apartheid rising on Roosevelt Island, but now it's looming. Find the evidence at 506 Main Street and on River Road.

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